Saturday, April 01, 2006

The meaning of suffering

How do you react when you hear that someone say they believe they have been called by God? Are you somewhat skeptical? For me, it depends on the particular call the person believes she or he has received. If the person believes they have been called by God to serve the poor, I admire them. If they believe they have been called by God to eat four pounds of hamburger, I’m a little more skeptical. And, if they believe they’ve been called by God to beat me up, I try to more actively discourage the call.

One of the central things that Jesus needs to establish in the gospels and especially in the gospel of John is his identity: Who is he? In the first three gospels, the so-called synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus’ identity is proclaimed from the heavens at his baptism. We hear in the gospel of Mark, a voice from the skies that says, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”, In both Matthew and Luke, the voice seems to change from a message to Jesus, to a message to those surrounding him. The voice says, “This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased.”

The gospel of John has no such divine pronouncement at its beginning, probably because there is no explicit statement that John baptized Jesus. Instead, the gospel writer prefers to do make the statement here, 12 chapters from the beginning. That prompts all of us to ask, “Why?” and “What is John doing by moving the voice of God to this point in the gospel?”

It’s important to understand a few of the details before proceeding to answer those questions, beginning with a bit of context. In the chapter immediately preceding this, Jesus does one of two resuscitations that are recorded in the gospels. He brings to life a dead little girl in Mark. In the gospel of John, he raises his childhood friend, Lazarus. We know that this had a profound spiritual affect on Jesus because it is the only time in which the very human emotion of weeping overcomes our Lord. It is an image of his own gruesome death and the sadness that will be a part of that experience. After Lazurus is raised, a banquet is thrown in celebration. In the middle of that banquet, Mary the sister of Lazarus, (not Mary Magdalene regardless of what Dan Brown says) anointed the head of Jesus with costly oil. Judas gets angry because they could have spent that money on the poor, though the evangelist says that is has nothing to do with the concern for the poor but concern for himself since he was stealing from the collection. Jesus sees in this lavish anointing a preparation for his own burial, a statement that could have only been confusing for this group of disciples since he had just raised Lazarus. Can’t he also raise himself? All of this is taking place at Lazarus, Martha, and Mary’s house in the little town of Bethany, which is the same name of the town that John the Baptist is supposed to have baptized and is not far from Jerusalem. Jesus enters into Jerusalem the next day, a wildly popular figure after having raised Lazarus. He enters to a throng of people waving palm branches and singing songs to him, an event we will celebrate next week, Palm Sunday. In the context of this entry into Jerusalem, our current scene unfolds.

It all begins when some Greeks, probably non Jews, want to see Jesus. What spills out is a clarification of Jesus’ identity…literally the crowd gets to see Jesus. That’s when this heavenly dialogue unfolds. Instead of Jesus either seeming to passively receive the knowledge of his identity or passively have his identity broadcast to anyone listening as it took place in the previous three gospels, John seems to want to fold Jesus’ identity into his mission of being lifted up. Jesus now accepts that, just like Lazarus actually had to die before he was resuscitated, so he is himself going to have to die before he is resurrected. The heart of the passage begins when Jesus asks, “…what should I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour.’ But, it was for this purpose that I came to this hour.” Then, in a unique dialogue between heaven and earth, Jesus turns to his heavenly Father and says, “Father, glorify your name.” The voice responds, “I have glorified it and will glorify it.”, a phrase, I’ve learned, indicates a timeless quality to salvation. John has put it here to be the time when Jesus, basically, accepts his divine calling to be glorified, to be crucified. His identity is not merely announced, it is inextricably bound to his death for the salvation of the world.

We, the members of the body of Christ, can learn a great deal from this divine dialogue. It is the true message of Lent; the cross. So much of the time when we talk about the salvation that has been won for us in Christ, we talk about it in terms that pass quickly from the cross to the glory of the resurrection. During Lent, we are forced to find value in suffering. Christianity is a religion that takes suffering seriously. We can see this in Christ just as easily as we can see it in the life and death of Pope John Paul II, whose requiem anniversary we remember this weekend. John Paul II was a man who knew profound suffering. From suffering under the repression of the Nazis to the tyranny of the communists; in watching his mother and brother die as a child and in his own attempted assassination in 1987; in the dissent of so many theologians and the calls from theological demagogues who tried to turn the church into an ideology or another community among other communities, in the development of Parkinson’s disease and the developments of his death, we can see an example of one who taught us much about the dignity of suffering and the importance of accepting the crosses each of us have been handed.

Our primary vocation is given to us in baptism, a call to holiness. This is what Matthew, Mark, and Luke wanted to transmit. John wants us to know that this call to holiness will involve suffering; the suffering of watching a loved one die, the suffering of being what society calls the imperfect, the poor, the handicapped, marginalized, the suffering of war and hatred. We take up our crosses when we do not run from these sufferings but see them as a part of our central call to holiness, our participation in the central act of salvation.

Friday, March 31, 2006

The wisdom of Abraham Lincoln

When I read history, it tends to revolve around three subjects; Church History, World War II in Europe, and the Civil war. With the last of these three, I especially like the figures of General Grant and President Lincoln. In the book that I'm currently reading, entitled Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin, I have discovered just how policially savy Lincoln was. I was unaware that Lincoln chose his rivals for the election to be his cabinet. One of them, a man named Salmon chase, was a particular thorn in Lincoln's side because he wanted to replace Lincoln after one term. I found this paragraph to be particularly humorous/educational:

"...Chase's incessant presi­dential ambitions reminded (Lincoln) of the time when he was 'plowing corn on a Kentucky farm' with a lazy horse that suddenly sped forward energeti­cally to 'the end of the furrow.' Upon reaching the horse, he discovered 'an enormous chin-fly fastened upon him, and knocked him off,' not wanting 'the old horse bitten in that way.' His companion said that it was a mistake to knock it off, for 'that's all that made him go.'"
"'Now,' Lincoln concluded, 'if Mr. [Chase] has a presidential chin-fly biting him, I'm not going to knock him off, if it will only make his depart­ment go.' Lincoln agreed that his secretary's tactics were in 'very bad taste,' and 'was sorry the thing had begun, for though the matter did not annoy him his friends insisted that it ought to.' Lincoln's friends could not understand why the president continued to approve appointments for avid Chase supporters who were known to be 'hostile to the President's inter­ests.' Lincoln merely asserted that he would rather let 'Chase have his own way in these sneaking tricks than getting into a snarl with him by re­fusing him what he asks.' Moreover, he had no thought of dismissing Chase while he was hard at work raising the resources needed to support the immense Union Army."

Sometimes you have to let someone who thinks they are a jack of all trades do the thing in which they excell and not worry about their inflated ego.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Bishop Blase Cupich

Bishop Cupich guided my retreat before I became a deacon and he's wise, pastoral, caring, and good. He's got a blog...interesting that even bishops can have blogs. Here's his summary of a visit he had to visit the pope and an oppertunity to reflect on Deus est Caritas.

"The best description of the liturgy is that it is this very same event. God, who loves us so passionately, empties himself to the point of giving us everything he has, including the life of his only Son. Our response, called “worship” is our acceptance of the life God gives us to the point that our life takes on a new direction. Yes, this happens every time we celebrate the sacraments, but in each instance God is giving us himself and we are stretched just a bit more, gradually growing in the likeness of God himself. Someone once described the liturgy as a revelation of the beauty of God’s love for us."

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Another interesting Catholic New Service story

I try to go to Catholic New Service once a day to find interesting stories. I found this yesterday and had a couple of thoughts...

Godspell

Jesus Christ Superstar

There are more that I don't know...less popular and more local. But, the question that comes to mind is: Is this authentic evangelization or just more christian novelty that won't move anyone's hearts and minds to Christ? We'll see.

My future

This is one of the saddest stories that I've heard in a while.

I know that, as a priest, I'm going to have the painful job of walking in to parishes that are dying...with no baptisms, confirmations, first communions, etc. in order to close them down. I know that this is probably an action by a people that are voicing frustration for the complete incompetence of government; state, local, and federal, in securing and rebuilding New Orleans. But, I wonder how much of this has to do with our vehement hatred for bishops and lack of obedience that has come since the Second Vatican Council. The Council didn't prescribe this. Has the church in the United States completely lost its sense of reverence for the successors of the apostles? Do we have any humility whatsoever?

And, perhaps the most disturbing thing to me, is the desecration of the Eucharist that took place there. These people prevented Christians from sacramental grace...because their building wasn't as available as it used to be. People complain that younger priests like myself want a smaller church. Are you honestly going to tell me the church is going to be worse off without people who have NO RESPECT FOR THE EUCHARIST? People who hate the Body of Christ?

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Example 2: The USCCB to Pro-choice Democrats

You may have missed this because not only did the mainstream media not cover it but, as far as I can tell, no one did. I hear so many complaints from bloggers when the bishops say the slightest thing that they don't like to hear and yet no one says anything when they do something good. In any case, here's what struck me.

"...At the same time, we also need to reaffirm the Catholic Church’s constant teaching that abortion is a grave violation of the most fundamental human right – the right to life that is inherent in all human beings, and that grounds every other right we possess. Pope John Paul II’s apostolic exhortation on the vocation and mission of the laity, Christifideles Laici, which the Representatives’ statement cites, declares:

'The inviolability of the person which is a reflection of the absolute inviolability of God fĂ­nds its primary and fundamental expression in the inviolability of human life. Above all, the common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights -- for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture -- is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition for all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination…. The human being is entitled to such rights, in every phase of development, from conception until natural death; and in every condition, whether healthy or sick, whole or handicapped, rich or poor (# 38).

While it is always necessary to work to reduce the number of abortions by providing alternatives and help to vulnerable parents and children, Catholic teaching calls all Catholics to work actively to restrain, restrict and bring to an end the destruction of unborn human life.
As the Church carries out its central responsibility to teach clearly and help form consciences, and as Catholic legislators seek to act in accord with their own consciences, it is essential to remember that conscience must be consistent with fundamental moral principles. As members of the Church, all Catholics are obliged to shape our consciences in accord with the moral teaching of the Church. (Emphasis mine)

Monday, March 27, 2006

Example One: Sean Cardinal

First they find his sense of Humor...

Then

To a diocese that has, undoubtedly, believed God has left them, this cardinal says...

"Belief in God for many people today is more like a hangover. They feel the effects of the religious activities of the past, but their own consciousness borders on agnosticism. They still make space for God in our churches, but He is given very little space everywhere else.
A hundred years ago, when Friedrich Nietzsche made his declaration that “God is dead,” he was not suggesting that God in the heavens had died. Nietzsche was saying that God no longer mattered in everyday life. “God is dead,” he said, “but His shadow is a long one and we must first conquer this shadow.”
These images of faith as a hangover, of religion as struggling with God’s shadow, of an absent God whose calling card we still possess, describe in general the attitudes of many contemporary Christians living in a thoroughly secularized culture. For secularism there are no absolutes, there is no forever. We wake up in this world as orphans.
To be a believer is to have a Father, a God who loves us. That faith and knowledge can give us a strength and serenity that is unshakeable. In one of the Nazi death camps during the Second World War, a believer wrote on the wall:
I believe in the sun, even when it isn’t shining.
I believe in love, even when I feel it not.
I believe in God, even when He is silent.
I know that for many God seemed silent during those awful times, but God is speaking in the heroism and goodness of so many people in those dehumanizing circumstances who shared their last crust of bread, who cared for the sick and dying and even forgave their persecutors.

Defensorum Episcoporum

Okay, so as I read most other blogs, it seems that bishops can do nothing right. I frequently post comments like, "Crazy successors of the apostles...." or "What did Christ think by setting these fools up as the hierarchy...we could have done so much better than he." Of course, I'm trying emphasize the point that THESE ARE THE BISHOPS. They make mistakes but, if you openly mock them and their leadership abilities, you are mocking the hierarchy of Christ's Church. Did the Apostles make mistakes? Yes, of course. Were they, nonetheless, the people Christ chose to spread his message. Just as assuredly yes.

So, I'm proposing a slight change in format until I get tired of it. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I'm going to find an article by one of the successors to the apostles to post. I'm sure that someone who doesn't know me will accuse me of having "episcopal ambitions" (an actual accusation I've received!) but there are so many problems with that idea that I don't need to even acknowledge it. First of all, just look at my posts. I'm not very intelligent... And, yes, I'm going to cite all bishops, not just (so called) liberal or conservative ones. I know that leadership automatically makes critics. I hope to be the one who cheers for Christ's church as Christ meant it to be.

Here's the way I see a week playing out:

Sunday: posting my homily
Monday: my sabbath rest
Tuesday: In defense of the successors of the apostles.
Wednesday: Something whitty from my life.
Thursday: Same as Tuesday, only with more research.
Friday: Probably something critical of the weeks news...or just another whitty ditty.
Saturday: leave me alone. I'm working on my homily that should have been done Thursday instead of doing research.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

In lieu of a homily...

So my homily was kind of weak this weekend because I was visiting a parish that isn't used to my sharp fidelity to the holy church. So, instead, I had some good jokes and offered a centeral thought that, I thought, was pretty good. Here's the core of the homily....

"We learned in seminary that there’s a difference between having a private life and leading a secret life. The difference is that private lives are morally acceptable in nature. For instance, prayer, kissing a loved one, reading a book or looking up information on the internet. Ultimately, none of these actions harm your relationship to God but they aren’t things that everyone has to know. In other words, you could tell people all about them but you don’t have to.

A secret life, on the other hand, is deliberately done in darkness because it involves doing things that harm our relationship to God and each other. We want to live as people in the light but the forces of darkness have a tendency to creep in, whether that’s by using the Lord’s name in vain, by viewing pornography, by reading anti-Christian literature or whatever else we would be too ashamed to tell other people we have done. The true power of sin is to take our private lives and turn them into immoral secret ones. And, as Christians, we need constantly be transforming our secret lives into luminous moral ones."